Shepherd hosting 39th annual Appalachian Studies Association conference March 18–20

Shepherd University will host its first-ever Appalachian Studies Association meeting when the organization holds its 39th annual conference, “Voices from the Misty Mountains: Diversity and Unity, a New Appalachia,” on campus March 18–20. The conference, which is expected to attract up to 800 participants, will offer a variety of presentations, tours and entertainment, some of which will be open to the public. Click here to view the Appalachian Studies Association conference brochure.

The mission of the Appalachian Studies Association is to promote and engage dialogue, scholarship, education, creative expression and action to promote a greater understanding of the region and develop pathways for the future.

The keynote speaker for the event will be former Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker (photo above), who won the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry.

“Frank X is just an incredible poet, activist and individual,” said Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, professor of English and conference chair. “He’s a wonderfully dynamic person, and he’s going to deliver the keynote, which is titled ‘Escape from Negro Mountain: Writing History and Righting Wrongs.’ That keynote sets the tone for all of these events and the whole conference, which is about diversity and unity in Appalachia.”

Shurbutt said all the sessions presented during the conference will explore aspects of the diversity and unity theme by focusing on history, literature, sociology, music, culture, education and health.

Another highlight will be “Appalachia USA,” an exhibit of photographs by Builder Levy, who has published three books depicting life in the coalfields of Appalachia. Shurbutt and photographer Roger May will lead a discussion with Levy about what sparked his interest in the region and about his work.

Other plenary sessions that are open to the public will feature Shepherd adjunct music professor and professional storyteller Adam Booth; representatives from Skytruth, a nonprofit organization that uses aerial and satellite imagery to monitor the effects of environmental events like oil spills and natural gas drilling; former “Goldenseal” editor and traditional musician John Lilly with his reflections on preserving history; and a presentation by some Affrilachian poets.

“The Affrilachian poets, Kelly Norman Ellis, Riccardo Nazario y Colón, and Bianca Spriggs, will read poetry that will honestly knock your socks off,” Shurbutt said.

A Showcase Concert on Saturday evening co-sponsored by the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd will be hosted by Booth and will feature Blue Yonder, storyteller Lloyd Arneach, and the Good Foot Dance Company.

Several tours will give conference-goers and the community the opportunity to visit and hear about nearby historical sites like Storer College in Harpers Ferry, Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Historic Roundhouse in Martinsburg, and downtown Shepherdstown.

“We’re just very lucky to be close to Harpers Ferry, close to Martinsburg, close to all of these really wonderful places that have a historic past that is very deep and rich and interesting,” Shurbutt said. “We want to share these with everybody.”

Thanks to a $13,500 grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, all conference plenaries and tours are open to the public. However, there are more than 200 papers, sessions, workshops and roundtables that Appalachian Studies Association members can attend. Anyone wishing to enjoy the full range of events for the three days of the national conference can visit www.appalachianstudies.org and register for the full conference. Plenary sessions and tours that are open to the public include:

Thursday, March 17

  • Storer College tour, 1–4 pm, departing from Erma Ora Byrd Hall.
  • Celtic/Appalachian music jam session, 7 pm, O’Hurley’s General Store, 205 E. Washington St., Shepherdstown.

Friday, March 18

  • Shepherdstown Historic Walking tour, 9:10 am, departing Shepherdstown Visitor’s Center, 129 E. German St.
  • Antietam National Battlefield tour, 9 am–noon, departing from Erma Ora Byrd Hall.
  • Welcome and Cherokee blessing, 10-11:15 a.m., Erma Ora Byrd Hall auditorium.
  • “Skytruth, An Environmental Watchdog for the World,” 1–2:15 pm, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium.
  • Builder Levy photography exhibit, 2:15–3 pm, Scarborough Library Reading Room.
  • “Escape From Negro Mountain: Writing History, Righting Wrongs,” keynote address by Frank X Walker, 5:30–6:30 pm, Frank Center Theater.
  • Old Time Appalachian Square Dance, 9 pm, Town Run Brewing Company, 202 E. Washington St.
  • Shepherdstown Mysteries Walk, 9 pm, departing from the steps of McMurran Hall, $10 per person.

Saturday, March 19

  • Shepherdstown Historic Walking tour, 9:10 am, departing Shepherdstown Visitor’s Center, 129 E. German St.
  • Historic Martinsburg Roundhouse and Downtown Tour, 9 am–noon, departing from Erma Ora Byrd Hall.
  • “Appalachian Percussive Dance Traditions in Historical and Cultural Context: Researching the Meaning of Buck Dance and Reel ’Em Boys, Reel ’Em,” Appalachian percussive dance tradition, 10–11:15 am, Reynolds Hall.
  • Tour of the Little House, 11 am–2 pm, Princess St.
  • Storytelling in Appalachia with Adam Booth, 2:30–3:45 pm, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium.
  • “Builder Levy and the Face of Appalachia,” a conversation with Builder Levy, 2:30–3:45 pm, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium.
  • “Lessons from Goldenseal: Reflections on Preservation of History and Folklife” with John Lilly, 4–5:15 pm, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium.
  • “Affrilachian Voices: Readings by the Affrilachian Poets in Celebration of Twenty-Five Years,” 5:30–6:45 pm, Erma Ora Byrd Hall auditorium.
  • “Voices from the Misty Mountains Showcase Concert,” 8 pm, Frank Center Theater, $15 general admission, $10 Shepherd staff/senior citizens/ASA conference registrants, $5 kids under 18, and free for Shepherd students with a valid Rambler ID.

Listen to the interview HERE.

Photo above: 2013 Writer in Residence, Kentucky Poet Laureate and NAACP Image Award Winner Frank X Walker, photo by Eliza Griffiths.